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What Has 25 Years Of State Income Tax Brought To Conn.?


It's been 25 years since Connecticut lawmakers passed a universal state income tax. According to the Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank in Hartford, the state has taken in about $126 billion through income taxes since 1991. The Institute says in that time state government spending has grown dramatically and much of that revenue has been used for debt servicing and public employee benefits.

WSHU’s Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma has been talking with lawmakers about the significance of the anniversary. He sat down with Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser to discuss what he learned. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Ebong, what are lawmakers saying?

Depends on who you ask. Opponents of the income tax say it’s been the worst thing that could have happened to the state. State Senator Joe Markley is a Southington Republican. He was in the state House of Representatives in the 1980s just before the passage of the income tax. Here’s what he says.

“There was actually more money coming in than we could spend when I was in the legislature in ‘80s…we cut taxes substantially…unfortunately the economy slowed down and the spending continued…pouring gasoline on the fires of recession.”

Well, you know what happened after Weicker got elected?

He proposed an income tax?

That’s right. It became one of the most contentious debates ever in the Connecticut legislature. Eventually it passed.

And that’s how we got a universal income tax in Connecticut?

Yes. Here’s Markley again.

“The income tax was a moment when the state had to decide whether it was going to get spending back under control…the level of spending that we’ve indulged in.”

That’s interesting. Ebong, I am sure the lawmakers who voted for the income tax probably have a different take on that history?

They sure do, I spoke with State Senate President Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat. Here’s his take.

“The reality is that the passage of the income tax brought Connecticut into the mainstream…”

So how does Looney see Connecticut getting back to a balanced budget, considering that there’s a sea of red ink projected for the Connecticut budgets for the foreseeable future?

That’s correct. Experts say Connecticut’s fiscal problems are structural. The state’s workforce isn’t growing fast enough to generate the amount of revenue needed to sustain current state spending. Here’s Looney’s prescription for getting out of the quagmire.

“Part of our problem is that job growth has been in lower wage jobs…the state has tried to rein in spending, especially since Democrat Daniel Malloy took office six years ago.”

So the way out of this is to attract more high tech companies to Connecticut, not cut back on state spending or repeal the income tax as many conservatives would like?

Well, after 25 years I doubt if repeal of the income tax would happen. Very few people are talking about that. Lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, also don’t have much of an appetite for increasing taxes. So they’ll probably be some more tinkering around the edges with the hope the economy will gradually become robust enough to wipe out the deficits.

Hmm. We thank you, Ebong.

Thank you, Bill.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.